Boys will be ....

I learned a lesson about boys today. My daughter, Molly, usually only has girls over to play. But last night one of the parents of Sean, a boy in Molly's class, asked if I could watch Sean after school for a few hours. Molly had no objection, so I picked up both of them from school and brought them home. As soon as I parked the car they dashed off into the house. 

I was eager to help make sure they got off to a good start, so after I unloaded several bags of groceries I went to look for them. They were in Molly's room. Sean was sitting on the bed while Molly was getting out her new fashion doll. This is the doll Molly bought with her own money after saving her allowance for a month. On the way home from the store she had ripped open the cellophane box squealing, "I can't believe she's mine!" Then, stroking the doll's cheek she had said dreamily, "I touched her!" and "I touched her again!"

I doubted this was Sean's idea of exciting after school play. I know Sean is quite the little league star. To help him out I advised my daughter, "Molly, do you really think Sean wants to play with Barbies?" She looked at him. He looked at me. "Why don't you two go out and play in the fort?" I suggested. And off they went.

They had been playing together two hours when Jane, Sean's mother, arrived.

"How did they do?" she asked. Clearly she was as excited as me about our children playing with the opposite gender for a change.

"They've been doing great," I said proudly. "They're out in the yard."

"Did they play dolls?" she asked. I wondered why she asked that. Did she think all girls ever do is play dolls. It seemed a rather sexist assumption.

"No." I said. "I think they have been throwing walnuts up at the apple tree, trying to knock apples down." "They didn't play dolls?" she asked again, now seeming rather disappointed.

"Well Molly wanted to, but I got Sean out of it by diverting them outside," I said with a sort of wink in my voice. "But that's why Sean wanted to come over here." she explained. "At school Molly told him all about the new doll she got, and he's been wanting to see it. He never gets to play with dolls at his other friends' houses."

I winced with shame. I had thought she was the sexist one. But it was I who had automatically assumed that a boy of nine would have no interest in dolls. And with that assumption I had made it unsafe for him to explore the interest he did have. "I guess I blew it," I confessed. "They were about to play dolls, but I interrupted them. I didn't think Sean would want to."

Jane was upset. "There are so few places where Sean's softer, nurturing side is welcome." she implored. "He can play like that with me, but I never see him that way with anyone else. I thought maybe he could play like that with Molly."

I flashed on how Sean had looked up at me when I walked into Molly's room. I hadn't realized that the expression on his face was really a question. As boy to man, Sean had been asking, "Is it okay?"

I called the kids in, desperate to reverse my mistake. I suggested that we play dolls for about ten minutes before Sean and his Mom have to leave. That idea crashed on the runway before takeoff. Sean knew his mother and I had talked. He knew what I was trying to do. And he was not about to be toyed with. If he does try to play with dolls again, it will be far away from me.

But I pray that he will try.

© 2008 Tim Hartnett

Other Father Issues, Books

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Parents are the bones on which children sharpen their teeth. - Peter Ustinov

Tim Hartnett, MFT is father to Molly at their home in Santa Cruz, CA. Tim also works part time as a writer, psychotherapist and men's group leader. If you have any feedback, or would like to receive the monthly column, "Daddyman Speaks" by Tim Hartnett regularly via email, (free and confidential) send your name and email address to E-Mail Tim Hartnett, 911 Center St. Suite "C", Santa Cruz, CA 95060, 831.464.2922 voice & fax.

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